Concrete Elbow by Steve Tignor - KB: First Impressions
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KB: First Impressions 03/30/2009 - 6:15 PM

Ag Does a yellowish tint coat your TV screen during the Fox Sports broadcasts from Key Biscayne, as if the tournament were being played behind a haze of South Florida humidity? For some inexplicable reason, I like it. The lack of a crystal-clear picture makes me feel as if the tournament is for tennis addicts only. It doesn’t have to work too hard to be thrilling, because we’re the only ones watching in the first place. The heat on the players may be high, but the pressure on the sport is low.

I needed to detox a little from tennis after my Indian Wells overdose, but I got in enough DVR time over the weekend, and TennisTV time today, to relate a few first impressions from Miami.

—Andy Murray betrayed a sluggish irritation during the first set of his opening match against Juan Monaco. The Argentine did begin impressively, controlling the points with heavier ground strokes than Murray could muster, particularly with his versatile backhand. But there were two troubles with Murray: (1) His old coach-berating side resurfaced at inopportune moments late in the first set. This was the first time I’ve seen him let his negativity affect his play this year. (2) He was either content to stick with the passive, rope-a-dope game that worked so well for him on the ultra-slow courts in Indian Wells, or he’s just so comfortable taking no risks right now that he can't get into the habit of forcing the action. Either way, it’s a risky way to play a strong and consistent baseliner. Even on the clay courts he'll see over the coming months, Murray will need to be able to take control of points and hit through the court.

—This morning the editor of TENNIS Magazine, James Martin, told me that watching Marat Safin this weekend made him hate tennis. I can see his point; the man is looking more miserable than ever out there—that’s saying something—and that only makes his job seem like inhumane drudgery. In his loss to Gael Monfils in the Knucklehead Bowl, Safin cracked a racquet in the decisive third-set tiebreaker. But having already been warned, he had to play with it or risk losing a point. His return of serve flew out.

—I watch a lot of tennis with the sound muted—the jazz soundtrack of the weekend was The Sermon, by Jimmy Smith—but I did catch some of Justin Gimelstob's commentary. I’ve always thought he was an insightful analyst who knows the game and the players. He also worked with technique guru Robert Lansdorp, which has to help with the finer points. Gimelstob also offered some ATP information I didn’t know—the South American guys want some clay-court events to be switched to hard—and was honest in assessing the embarrassing competitive habits of David Nalbandian. My only trouble is that Gimelstob puts himself and his analysis front and center in the telecast—he's still proving himself, I guess—which can make it hard to relax and sink into the match itself.

—In the best and most-often-replayed point of the Indian Wells final, Rafael Nadal jumped back for a lob from Andy Murray on his backhand side and sliced a high volley crosscourt that Murray scrambled to track down. The Murray get was spectacular, but the Nadal volley had an even higher degree of difficulty. On Monday, against Frederico Gil, Nadal, after struggling for much of the first set, broke serve at 5-5 with another high backhand volley. On this one, he reached back and spiked the ball with stunning force. Gil, who had hit a decent floating lob, was caught off guard and ended up stumbling after the ball.

I once considered Roger Federer’s high backhand volley and backhand overhead the best in the game. Maybe, more than forehands, backhands, or serves, it’s these status shots that make one worthy of being No. 1. Think of them as the top player’s exclamation points, the fancy hood ornaments that let ther world know their status as the sport's luxury vehicles.

—In my last post on the WTA, I lamented the fact that a tour with so many distinct and engaging personalities could produce so few distinct playing styles on the court. It goes against everything we’ve been taught about the expressiveness of tennis.

The current WTA paradigm (I’ve been out of college long enough to be allowed to use that word) mandates flat forehands, pummeled two-handed backhands, and an air of absolute seriousness and shrieking dedication to the destruction of your opponent—plus face-concealing visors, can't forget those. This weekend we caught a glimpse of a rare exception to this universal approach, in the form of 19-year-old Alexa Glatch and her casually athletic SoCal game and demeanor. Unfortunately, the surf-and-skateboard girl—at times, she looked like she was ready to lope off the court and onto the beach—didn’t have a prayer of withstanding the paradigm’s originator, Serena Williams.

Glatch, once a sure-shot young pro (and the pretend loser to Maria Sharapova in her famous “I Feel Pretty” commercial) who broke her wrist and arm in a moped accident, made some tentative steps forward in Indian Wells and Key Biscayne. She’s always had size—she’s over 6-foot-1 and has a Lindsay Davenport-esque aspect to her gait (they also share a coach in Robert Van’t Hof)—and she hits a heavy ball, but I was surprised by the flexibility of Glatch’s technique and the mellow stylishness of her strokes. She can generate big topspin effortlessly, snap off an inside-out forehand like a dude (or a Justine Henin), come over her backhand with two hands or take one hand off and shift easily to a slice. And she has an easy, natural, momentum-building service motion. She’s a jock, not just a product of a zillion balls pounded out at a tennis factory (though I’m sure she’s hit her share). 

Glatch's game is more than just utilitarian; it has personality, and it was a breath of fresh air to watch. That’s not going to change any paradigms, but at least it lets us know there’s still life outside it.


 
44
Comments
 

Posted by yes 03/30/2009 at 06:20 PM

first

Posted by yes 03/30/2009 at 06:20 PM

first

Posted by gliciouss 03/30/2009 at 06:21 PM

i saw some of glatch and some of her shots were surprisingly good...

Posted by ladyjulia 03/30/2009 at 06:37 PM

it is kind of sad...the state of tennis on television..

Posted by Andrew Friedman (a.k.a. Rolo Tomassi) 03/30/2009 at 06:45 PM

Steve - I'm not on the Gimel bandwagon just yet, but he did say something funny during today's Nadal match (guess you saw it if you watched to the end). Ted Robinson asked if he ever practiced things he was working on during a match against a lesser player. Gimel said, "I never played with anything on my mind other than winning." Then he paused, and added, "I'm the guy other guys practiced new stuff against!" Pretty funny and sincerely self-effacing.

Posted by Pspace 03/30/2009 at 07:11 PM

Great stuff again Steve.

"""
...it’s these status shots that make one worthy of being No. 1. Think of them as the top player’s exclamation points, the fancy hood ornaments that let ther world know their status as the sport's luxury vehicles.
"""

I heartily endorse this. The other shots often look practiced to the point of being reproduced from muscle memory (fantastic nonetheless), but when you see a raw flash of genius in one of these trick/feel shots, it's worth so much more. I often wonder if a Federer Nadal game is decided by the feel points, i.e., when both guys end up at net or no-mans land with each making a couple of transitions from defense to offense. They both seem to draw huge inspiration from winning these points, and perhaps leads them to do better on others.

"""
She can generate big topspin effortlessly, snap off an inside-out forehand like a dude
"""

Thanks for this observation. I've been trying to verbalize this for a while, and the lack of a frequently used I-O forehand makes the stock baseline rally in the WTA quite different from the ATP. With the ATP you get a flow from center-to-corners as well as corner-to -corner. In the WTA it seems to flow more gradually from center-to-center and then corner to corner. Why is it that we don't see that many I-O forehands? It's a relatively safe and easy shot to hit, no?

Posted by Donna 03/30/2009 at 07:13 PM

I can't understand how a jerk like Gimelslob continues to have a job? I havent seen anything positive written about him by any tennis fan except for Steve here who's just being nice. Misogyny is acceptable, right Steve? Otherwise Justin would have (and should have) been fired by now. The Old Boy network is alive and well and it's disgusting. I refuse to watch the Tennis Channel now because of him and his inane name-dropping and "Look at me! I'm friends with Roger!" dinner stories. FSN/Gimelslob=F.

Posted by TennisFan2 03/30/2009 at 07:19 PM

Steve, I really enjoy your posts.

As far as commentators go I am enjoying Davenport much more so than Gimelstob. I think she is a great addition to the commentary booth (although her comment about Venus being "disinterested" during the match was unnecessary as I don't think she looked disinterested - I think she was disgusted by her own average play and not very happy with her double faults).

Gimelstob can't seem to get out of his own way (and does anyone else think he's making money as part of Andy Murray's PR staff - enough already).

My husband and I noticed Rafa's backhand volley against Murray at IW - didn't catch it today but it was impressive when we watched it live.

Posted by imjimmy 03/30/2009 at 07:28 PM

Steve: Thanks for your thoughts!
That Nadal backhand overhead volley was stunning! It was really hard to understand how he was able to get that much of power on the ball. It almost looked like a conventional overhead. I guess that's where the biceps and the shoulder comes into play. What Nadal hit was probably the toughest shot in the game. And he made it look easy! No wonder, he's the best.

Posted by Lleytsie 03/30/2009 at 07:33 PM

HEY - Wat embarres. competitive habits, anyone care to tell me - am curious now about da-veed ?

Posted by richie 03/30/2009 at 07:43 PM

Steve - Gimmelstob is an insightful analyst and has gotten better with experience - early on , he was very bad. His problem is that he seems to want to impress the viewer with his vocabulary and has a tendency to use bigger words than are necessary. Davenport is doing a very good job and is pleasantly self-deprecating - Gimmelstob should like that word. I also agree with you Steve that Murray seems to be in a foul mood - in his match against Massu, he was no fun to watch at all - and that was when he was winning.

Posted by Cary 03/30/2009 at 09:13 PM

Watching Safin give away that match soured my day. How someone with his serve can squander a 5-2 lead is beyond me. It's sad really, to think that after the 05 AO (when everyone thought Safin finally got it together) Safin hasn't done anything (aside from his run at Wimbledon last year)... Let's just hope he's got another run in him some time before the end of the year. It would've been great to have seen him mix it up with guys like Rafa, Murray, and Djokovic on a consistent basis.

Posted by marie 03/30/2009 at 09:53 PM

TennisFan2, you took the words right out of my mouth,...one would think Gimelstob is on Murray's payroll. He is all praises for Murray. He shouldn't play favorites. I really wonder why he still has a job with Tennis Channel. Shut up, Gimelstob!

Posted by js 03/30/2009 at 10:16 PM

gimelstob adds value when he's wearing his analyst hat - just an x's and o's guy. he becomes insufferable when, as steve says, he tries to become "front and center" of the telecast with his questionable and grating personality. His biased predictions would be irritating if they weren't so hilarious (like last year, when he insisted that nadal would never be no.1, or this year, when he insisted that roddick would soon be no.4, to name a few).

Posted by Ryan 03/30/2009 at 10:20 PM

I'm REALLY hoping Glatch emerges as a top player. I greatly enjoyed watching her game too. Great slice. She has some things to work on, but maybe, like Davenport, adulthood will treat her well.

Posted by pdt 03/30/2009 at 10:38 PM

JS on Gimelstob:
"His biased predictions would be irritating if they weren't so hilarious (like last year, when he insisted that nadal would never be no.1, or this year, when he insisted that roddick would soon be no.4, to name a few)."

...or last week when he declared that murray was "already better than nadal on a lot of surfaces" and insisted that murray will take over the number one ranking within months.

Posted by jon 03/30/2009 at 10:48 PM

is this a joke? I would rather watch paint dry then watch Glatch's game. top spin forehand, and then slice bh, slice bh, slice bh, slice bh. Is that supposed to be what constitutes an interesting game? I've noticed that fans of "interesting/varied" tennis are actually just talking mindless 24+ stroke rallies where both players are either unwilling or unable to force a decision and are seemingly waiting to see which player will get bored first.

FYI, if you want to watch this kind of women's tennis you can. It's on the ITF circuit. Go watch Anabel Medina Garrigues play Camille Pin in 3 hour plus grind a thon if you want "variety"

Posted by 24yrold 03/30/2009 at 11:13 PM

Only female tennis worth watching:

Anyone with a 1-H backhand

Patty Schnyder

Posted by SufM 03/30/2009 at 11:32 PM

Did someone say Lindsay Davenport was a good addition to the booth? That is absurd. She rarely offers any good insight into matches and seems to talk more about extraneous things rather than actual analysis. Also, I agree, Gimelstob is a good commentator. Not only because he provides good insight, but he also adds a lot of personality and humor to the booth. Davenport does none of that and sounds dry and boring.

On the WTA, I just wanted to say, last year, I watched Sharapova play Hantachova at Indian Wells and at one point I could swear I mixed one up to be the other. They both had their visors on, they both had the same ugly windhouse type forhands, machine like two handed backhands, and screamed on almost every shot. Not only that, but they even did their customary jumping up and down and hair straightening before almost every single point. I could not believe what I was seeing and could not believe they got paid just as much as the men for putting up a product (their tennis) that has very little appeal and pales in comparison to the men's tour.

Posted by TB 03/31/2009 at 12:15 AM

I have to admit i prefer the ATP's coverage and commentators to the typical ESPN and tennis channel folks. Less talk is better in my opinion.

Posted by jojo 03/31/2009 at 12:30 AM

say whatever you want about Serena Williams... it really doesn't matter because she's a leg

Posted by TripleF-FedFanForever 03/31/2009 at 12:31 AM

Justin Gimelstob is a singularly retarded commentator. He is stupid, inane ("heh heh, let me tell ya, am not a math expert, but somethng's wrong with that numbers" - in reference to a very obvious unforced errors vs. winners ratio) and idiotic. He shouldn't be allowed to talk even at dinner tables - his own family included. That brash, butch, more banal than John Madden ("to win, leh me tell ye somethn'...you have to score") retard should go. By the way, his cousin, Brad Gilbert (Thank you Pete, for your priceless 'f...'ing Brad') is equally inept. Can we please have somebody who spoke proper English, analyzed the game instead (instead of verbalizing what just happened) and provide expert commentary? Is that too much to ask?

Posted by jojo 03/31/2009 at 12:32 AM

"legend" haha

Posted by Donal 03/31/2009 at 12:54 AM

Hear hear Gimelstob has about as much insight as Beavis an/or Butthead and has to go. All of the commentators talk far, far far, too much though. And they should be fired on the spot for a) calling the score or b) telling you what just happened rather than analysing it.
The other problem with the 1-D women's games is that they give rise to a lot of one sided slam finals. If one of them isn't motoring on the flat forehand two handed backhand combo she will get blown over. The men at least have some semblance of a plan B usually.

Posted by Scott 03/31/2009 at 01:21 AM

Steve, you were able to watch the Nadal match? Fox/Comcast pre-empted it in S.F. Bay Area, as far as I can tell. On Gimelstob (whom I enjoyed as a player), I would say occasionally interesting but mostly grating.

Posted by Valevapor 03/31/2009 at 01:29 AM

Being a cheap and primitive heathen, I have greatly enjoyed watching ATP matches at www.channelsurfing.net. The British/Aussie commentators are generally much less verbose during points than the American broadcasts. The WTA isn't much featured on this site, but since Justine's retirement there aren't too many women I fancy watching anyway (sidebar: Go Patty!). The best part about these live feeds is that you get to watch the players during changeovers. In Nadal's match against Gil, for example, Rafa summoned a cute ball girl (presumably because she spoke Spanish) and asked her for an ice towel. She brought him an open-ended bag of ice that subsequently spilled all over his legs and seat when he tried to put it on his neck. Rafa laughed and looked at his camp - you would never see this on a "normal" broadcast.

Posted by athanguy 03/31/2009 at 06:34 AM

That is why Hingis and Henin's retirement or even their not meeting at their peaks (Henin peaked after hingis') was a big loss for the tour.

What if Capriati, Kim, Venus or Serena, Davenport and the two mighty mites were all in the mix at one point at their peaks?

Then no one can say the tour is dry.

Even with the star appeals of Ivanovic and Sharapova, WTA is dry and dull because as a tennis fan, what we want to see is a player who will offer a game different than those of the current queens - the Williams.

Posted by athanguy 03/31/2009 at 06:34 AM

That is why Hingis and Henin's retirement or even their not meeting at their peaks (Henin peaked after hingis') was a big loss for the tour.

What if Capriati, Kim, Venus or Serena, Davenport and the two mighty mites were all in the mix at one point at their peaks?

Then no one can say the tour is dry.

Even with the star appeals of Ivanovic and Sharapova, WTA is dry and dull because as a tennis fan, what we want to see is a player who will offer a game different than those of the current queens - the Williams.

Posted by Rob 03/31/2009 at 10:58 AM

I saw the Glatch / Williams match live. I liked Glatch's attacking, smooth style too, but her forehand was abysmal. Had she kept those balls in play, the scoreline would have looked very different.

Related question: why do so few women pros use the slice more? Glatch's sliced shots kept Serena pinned deep in the court with manageable replies in return.

Posted by BDC 03/31/2009 at 11:19 AM

I'm interested in the comment about the SA playetrs wanting more hard court tournaments. Are the talking about changing to the lower tier SA tournaments to hard? Or reducing the European clay court season? Any insight appreciated.

Posted by Garrett 03/31/2009 at 12:23 PM

Didn't Gimmelstob's father get into a fight with - not an argument, I mean actually throwing punches - with Brad Gilbert at some tournament around ten years ago? What was that about, anyway?

Posted by ralph 03/31/2009 at 01:21 PM

I also would like to see Gimelstob go, don't like his commentary at all. A plus for the Tennis Channel is that they have continued to broadcast Miami matches well beyond the 2 hour nightly schedule I have.

Posted by gcchung 03/31/2009 at 02:00 PM

If Gimmelslob stuck to tennis, he would be barely tolerable. Repulsively, he can't resist making comments whenever the cameras light upon a female celebrity. His predictable hubba-hubba macking is tiresome and offensive. Yeah, Justin, Kate Walsh is just waiting for you to put the moves on her.

By the way, it's not the big words that Gimmelslob attempts to use --it's that he gets them wrong. Nothing more cringe-worthy than a multi-syllable word used incorrectly. He's an embarrassment.

Posted by Karen 03/31/2009 at 02:09 PM

I'm so frustrated by the Justin Gimbelstob commentary..I was happy
to see a place I can vent a little or a lot. During Indian Wells he ruined a Nadal match by pulling up some television actress he was clearly enamored with and treating us to her insightful
comments. Why doesn't the Tennis Channel put a muzzle on him? or really just fire him.

Posted by George 03/31/2009 at 02:23 PM

Andy Murray betrayed a sluggish irritation

Don't you mean portrayed?

Posted by Daniel ehrlich 03/31/2009 at 06:33 PM

Scott, anytime a match in the Bay Area doesn't show up on FSN it's on FSN plus, which, at least on the Comcast system, is channel 116. I think the Gimelstob debate is well worth having. The only time I like him is when he interviews Roddick; being his peer, he gets stuff out of him that, say, Ted Robinson cannot. But at least 50% of being a broadcaster is in the voice, and Gimelstob's is, to put it kindly, pretty damn annoying. As a personality I wouldn't want to get an iced tea with him, much less a beer. Listen to Dick Enberg and one of the McEnroe brothers call a match and then listen to Gimelstob. It's like they aren't even in the same profession. Aside from having an amazing broadcaster's voice, Enberg has a great way with words and contagious enthusiasm. Pat McEnroe has a few good trademarks of his own, like when he cries "Hello!" after a great shot. And Johnny Mac is Johnny Mac. I sincerely hope Gimelstob is never promoted to ESPN, which he clearly wants. That would be devastating. So Steve, are you just being nice? Content aside, you really don't mind Gimelstob's voice/inflection?

Posted by Susanna728 03/31/2009 at 08:25 PM

Hi Steve - I enjoy all your columns. Particularly liked the "Rafa Sightings". I was at Indian Wells too and loved being able to see lots and lots of matches. So now, when I only have the 3 or 4 matches available on DVR, I feel like you --- hey, why can't I see the other matches? For Bay Area folks, FSN is shown on Comcast Bay Area. If you have DISH, it's mainly on 419 but I discovered it may also be on 446, 449 or 450. (The Rafa-Gil match that someone else mentioned was broadcast on 446.)

Posted by embug 04/01/2009 at 08:18 AM

After Wimbledon last year, Sports Illustrated ran a cover shot of Nadal spiking a backhand volley at the net. His anticipation is so keen and his movements so precise, the shot could be called sublime, or, at least, awesome.

I've hit that shot a couple times -- like 5 or 6 -- with precision and ease. About 80% of the time I lost the point because I was enraptured with my effort. Silly me. Rafa is past my stage of self-awareness and mild ego hugging.

Posted by uncletennis 04/01/2009 at 01:57 PM

I look forward watching Alexa Glatch again. I am tired of the cookie-cutter strokes that dominate today and find a slice backhand effective in so many strategic situations. Nobody complains about Federer's backhand. Boring? I don't think so.

Posted by Steven 04/01/2009 at 04:14 PM

Started watching Glatch at Indian Wells and saw her in Miami too. She played differently in every match depending on her opponent! Great versatility and obviously smart upstairs. Very refreshing and enjoyable to watch.

To Jon, I have seen many players on the ProCircuit these days, and most of them are mindless bashers who make slews of unforced errors. You won't find Glatch's backhand slice and volleying ability anywhere out there.

Posted by elisse 04/01/2009 at 06:31 PM

I guess Glatch's game is refreshing if that is your preference. I personally found it quite boring and error-ridden.

If she plays like that, she'll continue to lose. Back to the factory because all Serena has to do is hit the ball deep and her pretty little slice doesn't stand a chance if she can't get it in.

When she did get them in, Serena sliced right along with her and quite effectively. I think Serena can play that game, too...but not sure how many slams it would get her.

Oh and just a little note, the originator of Serena's style is not Serena, rather her idol, Monica Seles.

Serena actually took "ball bashing" to the next level, along with Venus, by incorporating a serve and moving extremely well.

Posted by bjk 04/02/2009 at 10:19 AM

Monica Seles originated the deadly serious shrieking style. Serena copied it.

Posted by lisak 04/02/2009 at 12:11 PM

I also heard that comment that Gimel made at the Indian wells final that "Murray was better than Nadal on some surfaces"
I was floored... what surface would that be???

lets see Nadal has won 4 slams on clay, once on grass
and once on hard court and last time I checked, Murray
had none... so.,.. What surface are we talking about Gimel..

that gushing over Murray was hilarious....YOu would have thought
he was number 1. He became very quiet when Nadal began to completely dominate Murray.
Gimel needs alot more work on his announcing skills.....

Posted by kk 04/25/2009 at 07:49 PM

Let's set the record straight. Alexa Glatch has been coached by Kevin O'Neill since September 2006.
She has consulted with Vanthof on several occasions.

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